It’s been a while since I did a proper chapter-pack review, but with the launch of a new cycle of chapter packs, I decided it was time to get my act together, and start taking a proper look at things again.
As before, I’m going to offer a general overview of the cards in each pack, although some will be given a fair amount of detail if they catch my interest, whereas others may get skimmed over if they rely heavily on a theme I’ll be dealing with elsewhere.
Baratheon gets two new cards in this pack, a character and an attachment.
Ruby of R’hllor, not surprisingly, ties into the R’hllor module aspect of Baratheon – it’s pricy – at 3-cost for a unique attachment, and requires you to win an intrigue challenge as the attacker, but the effect has potential to be very powerful, allowing you to discard a particular card from an opponent’s hand.
In “Seen in Flames,” Baratheon already has unparalleled ability to view an opponent’s hand and this allows them to press that advantage. It’s also a R’hllor card, which means that it will trigger Melisandre’s kneel ability. The fact that it doesn’t require you to exhaust means that this can be triggered multiple times per round, so it could be especially nasty in a deck that makes multiple intrigue challenges – Lannister Banner of the Stag seems an obvious fit, and one that will be able to afford the start-up cost.
Ultimately, most of the time, triggering this card is going to require guess-work, but even if you do nothing more than name the card you’re most worried about all game, if feels like it could be handy. The timing is restrictive (no window to trigger it between draw and marshalling), but it will penalise factions who are relying a lot on challenge-phase draw.
The second Baratheon card is the White Raven, which ties in to the Power challenge / dominance style of play for Baratheon. It’s an interesting-looking card, but for me, the costs (mustn’t lose a power challenge, need to win dominance AND have a season plot revealed) are too steep for a 2-cost, 1-strength mono-con.
Greyjoy start out with the Captain’s Daughter, and I’ll say straight-out that I really can’t see the appeal of this card – it’s a 4-cost, 2 strength character, with just a power icon, and the ally trait (Ally hate may not become a thing in 2nd edition, but I certainly can’t see this becoming a positive trait to have). Her ability to bounce a character back to the top of an opponent’s deck is interesting, but feels too limited to be worth the cost.
Obviously, there are some very powerful non-loyal characters out there, and by my count, 20 of them cost 5 or more (which feels like the minimum you need to be hitting to make it worthwhile sacrificing a 4-cost character AND kneeling your house-card). The trouble is, they’ll be back again next turn, and a lot of the characters you’d really want to hit with this come from factions like Lannister who can easily afford to bring them back next turn.
The only place I can see running this card is in a mill-deck that’s got a high-likelihood of being able to discard that character before they can be re-drawn and played (Heads on Spikes would also be a good option). Bonus points if you do it with The Mountain, and move them to dead pile. Sadly, my recent attempt to create a Greyjoy/Lion mill deck convinced me that this isn’t a viable deck-type yet. (although since writing the first draft of this, I got thoroughly dismantled by a Greyjoy/Dragon mill deck, so maybe I should reconsider).
Greyjoy also get a location, Pyke, which can be knelt to give a character stealth. Obviously, Greyjoy like stealth for their unopposed challenges, but there’s already a lot of competition for Location space in Greyjoy, and I think that you’re better off sticking with the Warships – Great Kraken gives Balon stealth, and preventing defending characters from counting their strength is potentially better than stealthing them, as it means the character is still knelt-out. I can’t imagine running this any time soon.
It’s always been the way: the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. This pack is no exception, offering Lannister, through Levies at the Rock, a way to steal gold off of opponents who attack them.
This is obviously a good ability: it makes it harder for your opponent to play tricks/trigger events from the challenge, it strengthens Tywin if he’s in play, and swings the dominance balance in your favour. That said, I think Lannister has so many other good cards that a bit of marginal income manipulation during the challenge phase isn’t going to be worth including this.
Rather more interesting for Lannister in this pack, is their new character, Janos Slynt. He is (ironically) loyal, and at 5-cost for 2 strength, he doesn’t look that amazing. However, the combination of Intimidate, and a non-restricted action (i.e. trigger it as many times as you like) to pay 1 gold to give him +2 strength until the end of the phase allows Lannister to leverage some of their stacks of gold to beat down opposing characters. This looks like a very good option to me: so long as you have a bit of gold, your opponent is forced to either over-commit when defending, or find their characters knelt out unhelpfully. The variable strength boost can also be used to get through a Put to the Sword or similar. Lannister do have a lot of high-cost characters already, but they also have draw and income, so I think it’s worth finding room for this guy.
Martell get a character and a location in this pack. The character, Harmen Uller, is a 6-cost, 4-strength Martell Lord (so he benefits from Doran’s ability) who also has renown. At that cost, you certainly can’t afford his value as a body, but I think the real reason you’ll be running him is for his ability – he gives all of your “Sandsnake” characters Ambush. I’m going to do something on ambush elsewhere, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but for a Sandsnake Deck this looks like a fairly obvious card.
Tower of the Sun is a rather less flashy option. A 2-cost loyal location that gives you gold when an event is played (limit 1 per phase). The longer the game runs, the better the value here, and Martell likes to play the long game. This can also help pay for those ambushing Sandsnakes, so worth a look.
“Arry” is a new character for the Night’s Watch. You can’t control him at the same time as controlling Arya Stark, but people coped alright with Cat of the Canals in 1st edition, so this is hardly the biggest issue. This is another high-cost ambush character, but the main thing that leaps out is the ability to return Arry to hand to draw a card. More draw is always good, and the fact that this isn’t limited by phase is nice. On the other hand though, Night’s Watch have the Raven, which is just so much more cost-efficient. Worth chucking one in perhaps, but not something to be relied on.
I was never a fan of choke in first edition – it stopped me from doing what I was trying to do, but often didn’t manage to do anything interesting itself, just led to long, dull games. That said, this one really intrigues me. It costs 3, which is significant, given the number of high-cost locations Night’s Watch is already running (you still want Castle Black and The Wall ahead of this, I think), and it will take a few rounds to pay for itself, but the ability to squeeze your opponent’s income round after round, whilst simultaneously boosting your own feels really useful, and could hurt houses like Greyjoy or Stark, who were probably struggling for income anyway.
Across the Seven Kingdoms takes 2nd Edition in to the War of the Five Kings, and we get our first new king here, the King in the North, Robb Stark (I’d have liked it thematically, if he only gained the King trait whilst you controlled a “North” location, but that could have got really fiddly (especially if he also starts benefitting from Riverland locations…)
Robb has the ability to remove a problem character from a military challenge, provided that character isn’t a King. Up until now, that would only have been Robert, but Kings will be coming thick and fast in the coming months. As an aside, I really like the art here, it seems to really capture the flavour of a man weighed down by the responsibilities of rule (and fed-up enough to abandon diplomacy for a night of passion somewhere…)
The fact that he’s a renown character contributing 6+ strength in a military challenge is obviously nice, but for a 7-coster, this Robb just doesn’t feel that powerful – even the character you remove can just kneel again for the next challenge. Maybe there’s something to be engineered with Put to the Sword, and undefended shenanigans, but I’d rather keep the “re-stand everybody” version from the Core Set, and spend my 7 Gold on his mum or dad.
Riverrun, as you might expect is a Tully location,, and it allows you to speed up power-gain for Tully characters. The most obvious synergy is with The Blackfish, to get him to his magic 3 power, but this can also be used for cost-reduction via the House Tully Septon, or just to push you closer to 15. This only increases power, it doesn’t gain it from nowhere, but there are enough ways within Stark to get power on your characters that this looks worth including.
Kings, clearly, are like buses – you wait a whole cycle for one, then two come along at once. Viserys Targaryen has a better claim than most, and only another King is going to see off his challenge. For 2-cost, a character who forces your opponent to waste some of their best characters on defence seems like a good trick, and he represents very cheap power-gain if they don’t have a king. Sadly the fact that you want to keep him in play means he’s less use as claim-soak than his core companion, but at 2-cost, I think he can be forgiven. The biggest frustration for me is that he’s only 1-strength, which means he dies immediately to the loyal plot that gives all non-dragons -1 strength.
Shierak Qiya (what the Dothraki are calling the Red Comet that is moving across the sky) offers the ability to re-stand a character after winning a power challenge by 5. Targ has plenty of big-bomb characters, who you’d like to use twice: Dany, Mirri, Drogo, etc, and wining power-challenges by 5 is the sort of thing a Targ deck should already be doing, so this card with a gold cost of 0 is really appealing.
The problem with Shierak Qiya is that Targaryen already has a lot of cards you want to play that either can’t be set up, or require you to kneel your house-card (or both). Triggering this over the location that gives you a single extra power will be worth it most of the time, but shutting out a Funeral Pyre for the round may make you pause for thought, and needing to cut a copy of Fire and Blood or Dracarys! from your deck looks like a step too far to take.
Ser Colen of Greenpools feels like a man who got lost on his way to us – in the first half of the Westeros cycle, a 2-cost Knight with an ability looked like a great deal, and I had a lot of fun playing a Tyrell/Wolf deck in which he would have felt right at home.
Then came First Snow of Winter, a card which hit Tyrell hard. This guy is certainly good, but I just don’t see a need for another cheap Knight in this house. Maybe once First Snow has fallen off the radar a bit more, this guy will be worth revisiting.
Bitterbridge Encampment is another odd card – one that allows you and your opponent to each put a character into play. Obviously this is only going to work for you, if you can ensure that you get the better deal – emptying your opponent’s hand, or making sure you get something brilliant yourself. There are probably ways to build specifically for this, but for me, it doesn’t feel worth the risk, and there are too many times when this would be a dead draw.
There are also 4 neutral cards in this pack: a character, an event, and 2 plots. The event is The Dragon’s Tail, a zero-cost event that draws 2 cards for you and an opponent – FFG made a big deal of this card in the release article, but I can’t imagine ever running it outside of Melee.
The character is more interesting: a 5-cost neutral, with only 2-strength and an intrigue icon, this initially looks pretty hard to stomach. However, as befits a Pyromancer, the ability is what defines this card, and it is explosive – Kneel this and discard a power to discard a non-limited location from play. Being able to use this on The Wall, or Ghaston Grey, on the Red Keep, or the Iron Throne – even one of those pesky Greyjoy Warships looks great value for money – with those out of the way, you’ll soon recoup the power. Note that it is a dominance action though, so it has to survive the round – perhaps tricky if you were going to target something like Plaza of Punishment.
The plots both provide potentially powerful effects, but they are double-edged swords. Rains of AutumnRains of Autumn blanks the gold bonus on characters and locations, whilst Varys’s Riddle copies the “When Revealed” of another plot card. The stats on the Riddle are very good, and when these go well, they could be great – preventing your opponent from playing that crucial card, or copying a brilliant effect. Overall though, both feel too much like a risk to me.
So that’s it for the first pack of the War of the Five Kings Cycle. Some factions definitely do better out of this pack than others (I feel like Greyjoy and Tyrell got the worst deal), but overall, plenty of interesting cards – one or two got a run-out at our monthly game-night kit event on the weekend, and I look forward to seeing the rest in some decks soon.